Chapter 4: Van
Nine years prior
“Pen, Pen it’s time to wake up... Pen!” A voice stirred me from my sleep.
Grumbling, I pulled the covers further over my small body, “no!”
A giggle followed my refusal. My bed dipped to the right. I felt a tug and then my covers were gone. The cool air sent a shiver through me.
“Come on Pen I have your favorite treats,
blueberries.” My brother coaxed.
That caught my attention, I peeked from behind my hands spotting a grin spread across a pale face. Shaggy white-blond hair fell over warm blue eyes that glittered with gold and shone with humor.
He once again taunted, “but, if you continue to sleep, then I’ll have to eat them all by myself.”
Panicked I shot up, “NO! No, I’m up!” I cried out. There was no way I was letting him eat all the yummy goodness.
Laughing he quickly scurried out of the room calling over his shoulder, “catch me if you can!” and so I did.
.... The Present…
Warm smiles, laughter, two pairs of feet running around on the wood floor echoed through my mind. Rousing me from my comatose state. My eyes refocused on the soldier below me, no, not a soldier..... My brother. He was my brother. I knew this without a doubt.
Memories of laughter, had me realizing that this was the man whose laugh had originally caught my attention by the fire. It was the laughter of my brother. A sound I never thought I would hear ever again. A mixture of emotions warred within me. Making me loosen my grip on the knife.
That day was so clear to me, we were all laughing enjoying the fresh blueberries teasing each other. In the next moment, those memories went up in smoke.
It was the next word that cut off my airway, “Pen?” I couldn’t breathe, am I dreaming I have to be. This can’t be, then the deep voice spoke again, “Pen, is that you?” The feel of a hand caressing my face had me gasping and jumping back in shock.
Locking eyes once again I began shaking my head rapidly back and forth. Thinking, no, no this can’t be... dead... he’s dead, this isn’t real.
I must have said it out loud because his blue eyes filled with understanding and sadness. He began moving toward me slowly with his hands held up, like he was trying not to scare off a frightened animal. Maybe that’s what I was. My mind obviously wasn’t working correctly, because how could someone dead be right in front of me. Instinctively I scooted back further. Thankfully he took the hint and knelt back down.
Confused voices came from all around us reminding me that we weren’t alone. The soldiers were no longer in a defensive stance, instead, they had backed off. Probably so the crazy girl sitting in the dirt didn’t try and attack them. With that thought, my mind cleared up as a giggle slipped through my lips at the silly idea.
Hearing my laps into insanity my brother asked, “Are you ok, did you hit your head when you fell?” he truly sounded concerned.
Great, I really did sound crazy.
Collecting myself I cleared my throat, “No, I’m fine, I just thought of something that made me laugh.” Worry was still etched across his face.
Thinking it best I elaborate, “I was looking around and noticed that the others had backed off,” I indicated this by waving my hand around, gesturing to the soldiers. It probably would have been better if I hadn’t been clenching my knife. As all of them instantly got back into a defensive stance with hands on the hilt of their swords. Shit, not good, not good. Slowly I braought my had back to my side.
“Sorry,” I raised both of my hands back up, empty this time.
They relaxed ever so slightly, but I had a hunch that they were only a moment away from pouncing.
Clearing my throat, “as I was saying, I noticed how they had backed off. I was wondering if they did so because they thought me crazy.” A few of the men chuckled at my response. I probably should have stopped there, but wears the fun in that. Really, who couldn’t help but tease a full group of tough-looking soldiers? “Then I thought of how futile that would be. I could have easily thrown my knife at any one of them no matter the distance.” Just to add a little flare, I picked up my knife and tossed it in the air. It turned over two times before I snatched it back, with a grin on my face. Some of the men paled at this while others reached for their swords once again. Even my brother went a bit white in the face.
Man, I really need to learn to keep my mouth shut. Nine years of seclusion really messed with my social skills.
Seeing my brother’s ashen face reminded me of how much things really have changed. I was no longer that small laughing girl who chased her brother around the kitchen table, and he was no longer the boy who enjoyed teasing me.
A booming laugh came from behind me causing me to jump. “I like her, who is this spitfire Van?” A smile was evident from the delight in the man’s voice. The name Van only confirmed who this man was to me. Hope and pain shot through me at the truth of the situation.
Here was not the place to break down. With a mental shove, my fraying emotions went to the back of my mind to deal with later.
First things first, who was behind me. Glancing back, I was instantly struck by the man’s beauty. I may have been living in social poverty, but I knew a stunning man when I saw one. He was fairly tall if I had to estimate about 6′2". He was slim but muscular, indicated by how his arms strained against his sleeves. He had chocolate brown eyes alight with humor and if I wasn’t wrong a bit of mischief. His slim nose pointed down to full lips. His sharp Jaw gave him a masculine feel. Light brown hair, pulled back into a bun with a few strands left out to frame his face. By his nice clothing, I would have to assume he was the leader of the group or someone important.
What my brother said next left me even more stunned.
“Prince Bane, as strange and wild as this may sound,” he glanced at me, eyes softening, “this is my sister. I had thought she was dead along with the rest of my family when we were kids.” The pain he felt was evident in how his voice cracked as he spoke. Hearing this I felt the need to comfort him but I was not used to touching people outside of my sister, Nash and occasionally my father.
Awaiting the prince’s reply a tingle went off in the back of my mind. Nash was close and from the aggression and concern coming off of him, this wasn’t going to be pretty. Panicking I shot to my feet startling everyone around me.
I was too late when the sound of branches breaking came from behind the prince along with a ground-shaking rawr.
With everyone now focused on the terrifying relux bearing down on them. I easily maneuvered my way around the prince so that I was face to face with Nash. It was also at that moment that my father and sister came crashing through the trees fully armed. They stopped right behind Nash, waiting for what would happen next.
Yep, today was definitely not my day.
Tonight I’m going to take a much-needed nap.
It seemed one of the soldiers didn’t care for his life because he began charging towards Nash. How stupid could you be?
Taking on a relux especially one the size of Nash was suicidal.
Relux’s were one of the creatures that had crossed over when the rift was cut into our world. They were known for their strength, speed, and stealth. They could easily decapitate a person with one swipe.
As the man came running by I stopped his stupid ass by grabbing onto the back of his shirt. Using my enhanced strength I yanked, sending him flying backward. Not caring when I heard him crash into a tree, and was most likely knocked out from the force. It was better than being mauled to death.
Since the men here couldn’t help but be complete imbeciles they needed a lesson on exactly what not to do.
“EVERYONE, LISTEN UP! THAT RIGHT THERE IS A VERY PISSED OFF RELUX. NOW, IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO KEEP YOUR HEADS ATTACHED TO YOUR BODY, STEP BACK AND FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SAIN DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!” I shouted, catching everyone’s attention.
In the next instant, I lept toward Nash. His silver eyes were slightly glowing indicating he was way beyond reason. His predator side had taken full control.
This has happened only one other time. I was thirteen and was fighting some bandits and got severely injured. He had only calmed down when I touched him assuring him that I was alive and ok. After that, it had taken hours of calming him before he would let Terra near me.
Right before touching down on his back, I heard one of the soldiers yell, “Ooo shit!”
Well, they were definitely going to think I’m crazy now. I chuckled to myself, thinking about how this must look to them. A tiny girl charging at a 900-pound angry relux. Yep, definitely comical and crazy.
What they didn’t know was, Nash would never hurt me even in his wildest state.
So when Nash did nothing as I landed on his back it probably sent their minds spiraling. Raping my arms and legs around his massive body I began pushing relaxing vibes into him as well as whispering comforting words in his ear. He might not understand what I’m saying under his anger induced haze, but the sound of my voice plus the physical touch would help.
The progress was slow. He finally stopped growling after a god ten minutes. It was another five before he finally broke through his rage. From the stiffness of his body, it wouldn’t take much to push him right back over.
Even after calming down, it took a while to talk him out of attacking any of the soldiers. Only after I told him that once I was done explaining everything and if he still doesn’t think it’s safe he can have at it. Truthfully I wouldn’t let him attack them but the soldiers didn’t need to know that. My brother may be one of them but that didn’t mean I trusted them.
Once that was all cleared up I pushed up to a seated position.
Everyone was still frozen in place, too nervous to move. Well, that needed to be fixed. What to do, what to do?
Singling out the Prince and using my most sugar-coated voice possible, for my not so apologetic, apology. “My deepest apologies mileage, Nash here has quite a temper and it can be hard to control when certain people are put in danger.” ending with a dip at the waist. I may have said it in a joking manner but the arch of his eyebrow indicated that he caught onto the subtle hint. Don’t mess with us or you’ll be kitty chow.
Not missing a beat a grin made its way back onto his face, “Alright everyone now that the show is over why don’t we settle down. Everything will be straightened out once we make it back to camp.” He playfully winked back at me, “and any woman gutsy enough to jump on the back of an angry Relux can call me by my first name, its Bane to you kitten”
I slightly gagged at the nickname and Nash growled his displeasure. Instead of flinching the Prince just waved it off. It was at that moment I knew we would get along, anyone able to brush Nash moodiness aside in such a flourishing manner was bound to be entertaining.
Feeling where my thoughts had run off to, Nash used his tail to whack the back of the head. Oww, I rubbed the offending spot.
Not wanting him to get whiled up again I patted the top of his head. Don’t worry boy, I still like you better.
He shook out his coat, a sign he was pleased with my declaration.
As we made our way back to the camp everyone kept a wide berth from Nash and I. Something I was very grateful for as I could feel my dads and Terra’s eyes drilling into the back of my skull. I wasn’t ready to get into it with them, especially my father. On top of that, there was going to be the shock of Van’s return to the living. Rubbing my face with my hands as if that could wipe away the tiredness and stress. This is going to be one long conversation so much for that nap.
The walk back was too short. Before I knew it, I found myself back at where this whole night started. The only difference now was I was inside the large tent instead of out. The Prince had taken his seat behind a table, while my Father, Terra, and Van were having a staring contest. I instead chose to stand near the door with Nash wrapped around my feet protectively. It was also so I could keep an eye on him. He was more likely to eat someone if I didn’t.
Watching as my family let the realization of who Van was set in, was interesting. I have no doubt that I looked just as stunned as them when I had the same epiphany. Scratch that I probably looked worse, since I was still disoriented from falling out of a tree.
When we had reached the camp the prince had directed us into the middle tent from there everyone was introduced. Following the big news, everyone froze in their seats too stunned to talk. This brings us to now.
The silence gave me the opportunity to finally take a good look at Van. An obvious change was his size. He was probably pushing 6′5”. Only to add to his looming frame was a good layer of muscles that held his body stick straight from all the tension. His long fingers tapped nervously on the armrest, an old tick I remember him having whenever he was nervous. His once shaggy blond hair was now cut close to his head, and a bit longer on top. The biggest change was his eyes, not the color but how they no longer shone with childish humor. They were shadowed with pain that he tried to hide. Which I could relate all too much to.
This had to be just as hard for him as it was for us, maybe even wers. We at least had each other. He had to deal with our supposed deaths all by himself. Leaving behind a hardened man in his place. No longer the gangly goofy kid I used to adore but a full-grown man, a man that I no longer knew.
Terra was the first to come to. It seemed she wasn’t going to waste any time getting to know him. As she stood and launched herself into his arms and began crying. It was an understatement to say he was surprised, he was trying but failing to comfort his little sister. His panic grew ever clearer as he stiffly began patting her on the back.
As the debacle continued, I didn’t even notice when my father had finally joined us in the present.
His voice snapped Terra from her crying, “How is this possible,” his voice was hoarse with emotion, “I saw you get struck down, you weren’t moving... and I couldn’t find a pulse,” This was the most emotion I’ve heard from our father in years. His voice had actually cracked, looking closer I could even see tears beginning to well up in his eyes. Call me shocked. The man’s hard exterior was finally crumbling. Turning my head to see how Van was handling all of this I found Terra sitting in his lap but was now gapping at our father. Van on the other hand was back to being a statue. The prince who didn’t even know my father looked a little shocked at the emotional big man. Terra must have felt acquired in her current position because she got up and sat back on her chair next to our crumbling father.
Luckily Van broke the awkwardness of the moment, “I thought you guys had all died.”
Dang, I spoke too soon, this was going to get worse before it got better.
Van’s voice wavered as he spoke, “When I finally came to that day it was already dark. It was the sharp pain in my adman that had woken me.” He rubbed at the spot on his stomach. “It wasn’t until later that I found out that I should have been dead from the blood loss. My elven blood was what had kept me alive but barely.” He let out a sigh, “I was too weak to move, so I laid there with the permanent smell of smoke and blood clotting the air.” Van’s eyes seem to have glazed over as he was no doubt pulled into his terrifying past. “I don’t know how long I laid there but I began hearing what sounded like voices coming from around me. I didn’t care if they were people sent to finish the task or if it was someone stumbling upon our town. Knowing I had to do something, I conjured up every last bit of energy and called out as loud as I could for help. I was surprised when the people that reached me didn’t instantly strike me down. Instead, they took me and mended me back together.” Pausing he took in a shaky breath and licked his dry lips. “Once I was able to move they sent me to a children’s home, where I lived for five years. At the age of 17, I got adopted by Mr. White. He needed an heir and after the death of his wife he was not able to produce a son.”
He didn’t say it but I had a feeling there was more behind the story than he was letting on.
“Within a year of being adopted, I joined the kingdom’s army and became a soldier. Years passed and I rose through the ranks, eventually landing a spot in the Prince’s personal guard as his Commander Sargent.”
Hearing him tell us his life story I felt proud of my brother. He had accomplished so much and was doing well despite his difficult beginning. It made me wonder what my own life would have been like if our situations were reversed, but the thought was quickly discarded. Simply because I couldn’t imagine it. I had no idea how to imagine a life outside of these woods.
My father spoke up, “I’m glad to hear you did so well for yourself son.” He paused scratching at his bearded chin, “I suppose you would like to hear our side of that night’s events?”
Van’s voice was soft but eager, “I would like that if you wouldn’t mind.”
Father cleared his throat pain still evident in his eyes, “I’ll start from where I had to leave your body.” It was a bit unsettling to hear Van being depicted as just a body but Van seemed to pay no mind. “After I found you with no pulse I continued the search for your... Matther.”
I could tell how difficult it was for him to even bring her up. In the back of my mind, eagerness filled me. I’d finally get to hear about her.
Regaining his composure he continued, “Fighting my way through our attackers I managed to find her. She... she was slouched against the side of a building. Blood was dripping down her dress. I... I... I thought I was too late. I rushed to her and was so happy so very happy to find that she was not yet gone. I can still feel her touch as she reached out and caressed my face.”
I don’t think he even realized what he was saying anymore nor did he realize that he had reached his own hand up to touch his face. Shit This was hard to hear. Scratch my previous thoughts, seeing him breaking down like this was something I did not want to see. It was probably for the best that the topic was off-limits all these years. No one needed to relive the death of the person they loved the most.
My turmoil went unknown to all but Nash. Rubbing his head against my leg Nash gave me the support he knew I needed but would never ask for.
Calmed down I looked to Terra taking note of how she was clutching onto our mother’s necklace. Stepping away from Nash I crossed to where she was and tugged her from her set. Wrapped my arms around her. Her hands fisted into my back. No one commented on the two of us, too focused on what our father was saying.
“Carrying her through the woods I had to keep telling myself that she was going to be fine, that everything was going to be fine. It must have been hours before I finally reached the old broken down well. Where I had told the girls to take shelter.”
I no longer needed to rely on my father telling the story as my own memories took over the narration.
... 9 years prior…
Spotting a figure breaking through the tree line my body froze in fear. Ever so slowly the figure moved closer stepping into the moonlight. Illuminating his familiar face. My body relaxed at the sight of Papa. Taking a closer look I could see that he was carrying someone. The feeling of dread swept through my body and when I saw the dark stains of red splattered all over a very familiar blue dress, my heart plummeted.
“Papa is that Ma, is she ok?” I asked yet not wanting to know the truth. My voice must have awoken Terra as her tiny body squirmed in my lap. Tearing my eyes away from where they were plastered on the stains. I glanced down to see my sister’s big eyes now locked on Papa but she didn’t look startled instead a frown pulled at her lips. Even someone as young as she could recognize what and who those stains were on.
There was more pain in Papa’s eyes than I had ever seen but he was still trying to hide it from us. A pained smile was formed by his pale trembling lips. “Yes my darling soon your mother will be all better,” he replied to my earlier question.
Stopping in front of us he knelt and laid Ma down on the ground, causing her eyes to flutter open. I was excited to see her awake until I noticed the anguish reflected in their critical blue depths.
Ma would not be getting better. Tears began welling up in my eyes. My eyes flickered around looking for the one person who always made me feel better. He’ll make Ma’s hurt go away, but when my eyes could not spot him, a new wave of dread seeped through my body.
Looking to Papa for answers, “Papa where is Vanny?”
It was with absolute despair written across his face that the dam of tears began pouring down his face and triggering my own. Seeing us both crying, Terra let loose her own mournful wails.
When my cries turned to sniffles the sound of a soft beautiful voice brushed my ears. It was our lullaby. The one she sang to us every night when she tucked us in. Ma was singing to us, even in pain she was still trying to comfort us.
She reached out with her hand, wiping away the tears running down my cheek. “There, there my little warrior, no need to cry.?” Not wanting to see her in pain I kept my eyes locked on my hands that were folded on my lap. “Come now, I.... want to see..... my daughters.... beautiful face.” She struggled to speak. I braced myself for what I would see and tilted my head up, but I was not prepared. Before I could begin crying again. She cupped the side of my face, ” There’s my lovely girl. Now I need...you...to do...something for me....can... you....do that,” I simply nodded not wanting to hear my voice crack. She managed a small smile but it still managed to bring light into the dark night. “Good, I need...you to be strong ....and ...watch over ... your sister...for me. She’s not... as... big...as you......and will need someone.....to help...her grow. Can... you...do that.....for....me?” She was now heavily panting trying to suck in air.
“But?” I wanted to protest and say there would be no need. That she would be here to do that.
Hushing me with a squeeze of her hand, “No buts… not this time. Your Matther needs... you... to...promise...that you...will ...do this.” More tears streamed down my face but I quickly whipped them away before they could fall. Ma said I shouldn’t cry anymore, that I need to be strong.
Laying my hand over hers that still cupped my check, “I promise.” The faintest smile graced her now pale blue lips.
“Thank you...you will always be.......my little...warrior... I will...always ...love you..never forget..that.” She paused to take one giant painful breath in and then looked to Terra, “Terra...my sweet sweet girl...Matther loves...you. Don’t...be...to...hard..on...your..sister.” Terra clenches onto Mama’s already ruined dress, nodding her head vigorously while tears stream down her chubby face.
Watching as my father leaned down and kissed her forehead as his own tears dripped down his face onto hers. Looking into his eyes she whispered, “I will love you forever my Thief.”
“and I you, my Flower,” papa whispered as he pressed one last kiss to her lips.
Those few words spoken with so much emotion was like a hurricane beating at my heart. Everything became too much for my 8-year-old mind to handle. The combination of losing my brother and my mother filled me to the brim until I was overflowing. This would be the last time I would break my promise to my mother, as tears began streaming down my face uncontrollably.
As I let loose everything I had. My young body could not take the strain the emotions were putting on it. With nowhere else to go my emotions released in the only way it knew how.
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